September 12, 2016 — Throughout her 64 years as a student, administrator and volunteer at Saint Louis University, Mary Bruemmer has received countless awards and accolades, but none as prestigious as being named Dame Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester, Pope and Martyr.
At her retirement party in June, Bruemmer, 96, was honored with the papal knighthood presented by Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis. The knighthood is given to those who demonstrate exemplary lives in society, business and military. Along with her new title, “Dame Mary,” she was given a commemorative scroll and a cross medallion from the Holy See.
"Mary has been a role model, a guiding light and a moral compass for generations of SLU students and alumni,” Archbishop Carlson said. "She has also served God in so many ways, and this honor from Pope Francis tells the world how she has served Him and her church."
Bruemmer began her freshman year at Saint Louis University in 1938, when women made up only five percent of the student body. With the intent to become a teacher, Bruemmer entered the School of Education and Social Services. During her time at SLU she earned straight A’s and established herself as a leader on campus through her involvement with The University News and the Fleur-de-Lis literary magazine. When it came time to graduate in 1942, Bruemmer decided that teaching was not her vocation. The Jesuits of SLU offered her the newly-created position of dean of women at the university.
She politely declined. "I was in no way qualified to be a dean of women," Bruemmer said. "I needed more life experience and to get away from SLU."
Her decision made, Bruemmer returned home to Illinois where she worked for the Red Cross, training veterans to find jobs and then went on to establish Catholic Youth Organizations in 10 parishes.
In 1956, Bruemmer returned to SLU and accepted a position as the director of Marguerite Hall, a female dorm on campus. In 1967 she finally accepted the role offered to her 27 years earlier, succeeding Nancy McNeir Ring as dean of women.
"The number of women students kept increasing, and the Jesuits realized they didn't know enough about advising them," Bruemmer said. "So Nancy did that. But as a woman, she also represented something more. Because we had no female Jesuits, no wives of Jesuits, she helped with the hospitality. She made the university what it was, hospitable."
By 1975, SLU combined the roles of dean of student affairs, dean of men and dean of women into one position, which Bruemmer held for over a decade.
After 34 years an administrator, Bruemmer retired from her official post at SLU in 1990, only to continue to work at the university for another 26 years. During her tenure as a full-time volunteer, Bruemmer worked with the Women’s Council, the Women’s Commission and Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit honors society.
Although the honor of a papal knighthood marks the end of Dame Mary’s service to SLU, her legacy at the university is irrevocable and enduring.
"Mary is once again departing from her physical post at the university, but SLU will never be lacking for her presence," said Fred P. Pestello, SLU president. "Her years of dedicated service, love and commitment to Saint Louis University are woven into the tapestry of our nearly 200-year history."